Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Witness to a Grand Event

One of the benefits of teaching is witnessing one-of-a-kind events in the lives of my students. This semester I have the privilege of including Casey in my first-hour US History class, and he has been a true treasure to watch as his progression takes place in learning. He's a typical teenager with the exception of being totally deaf, and he continues to amaze me with his ongoing work ethic in school. Sometimes my 'normal' students lose sight of the difficulty associated with not having all of our senses, and we discuss ways which we can be more sensitive to the needs of those throughout society. They do not seek pity, only equal opportunity to interact with all aspects of our society. On a recent trip to the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) in Madison, I witnessed a day that I will forever remember as it teaches one of those lessons about inclusion and how it impacts everyone around us.

My freshmen students are once again working on their National History Day projects, and just as I did last year, I provided an opportunity for those who wanted to dig for information in the second largest library in North America. Casey was one of the first who jumped at the opportunity to make the Saturday trip, but I was unable to secure the services of the school's translator. I assured him that I would work with him closely to assure that information was found on Laurent Clerc, his chosen topic for NHD. (Note: Clerc is often referred to as "The Apostle of the Deaf in America" for his work in the early 1800s when he founded the first school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut) If we needed to communicate, we would simply write notes back and forth to one another, but as much as I was comfortable telling him this, there was the ultimate uncertainty of whether it would really work as we both expected it to.

When we boarded the van that morning, I discovered that one of my students was learning sign and offered to serve as the go-between throughout the day. This was a gift from heaven in so many ways, and as I drove the group to Madison, I witnessed an ongoing conversation between Casey and Amelia in the back of the van. Like any teenager, he was enjoying an open dialogue with his new friend, which put all my fears to rest. Inside the WHS I was amazed to see how Amelia had taken ownership of translating information from the curators to Casey. He was totally at ease with the process, understood what he needed to do, and instantly jumped into his research.

A library researcher provided Casey with a listing of potential resources, and together he and I made our way to the top floor of stacks to see what we could find. He lead the way much like an excited prospector in search of hidden treasure. Weaving in and out of a multitude of shelves, the ultimate find occurred when not one, but five racks of books were located...all on the subject of deaf individuals. It was as if Casey had found the holy grail and I took a step back to savor the moment for what it was. He was in his element like never before! Books were found on not only Laurent Clerc, but the first deaf community in Martha's Vineyard. Deaf poetry, deaf athletes, the history behind sign language, and so much more. I scanned books in an effort to help him locate information on Clerc, but he was totally able to grasp the situation at hand. We left the stacks with not only a handful of books for his project, but a hearty helping of new-found self-confidence for Casey as well.

When we drove away from the UW campus that afternoon, I saw a new side to Casey that I had yet to realize before. This was his potential for life and the impact he had on those around him. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, he was actively engaged in the process of learning. He aspired to be more than just another student and took true ownership in his education. While I have yet to see his final project, I imagine it will spark interest in his fellow students. He has raised the bar of standards in my classroom and inspires me to work all the more harder in what I do everyday. Thank-you Casey...for being you!